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The Desert: a Garden in Spring

001 California, Spring 2009  209 Joshua Tree National Park

I’ve been intrigued by deserts ever since I first visited one as a teenager.  The first impression I remember having is of a lifeless, harsh and barren place.  It’s certainly a hostile environment but I couldn’t have been more wrong about it being lifeless and barren.  Deserts are teaming with life and have a flora and fauna that’s incredibly well adapted to their challenging environment.  Temperature extremes, strong winds and little rainfall all necessitate hardy species.  Examples such as the cactus, with its protective spines and thick skin, are illustrative.

I love visiting the desert in the spring almost as much as I hate visiting the desert in the summer.  The reason for those who’ve lived in the American Southwest is evident — temperatures in the summer are impossibly hot, at times topping 120 F (50 C).  People who live in places like Palm Springs or Phoenix will tell you it’s really not so bad because it’s a “dry heat”; then again so is the inside of a pizza oven.

Ocotillo in bloom, Palm Desert, California

But in spring the desert is truly special!  The weather is generally very pleasant in the day, 65-80 F (17-25 C), and you’ll be treated to wonderful displays of color.  The small amounts of rain in the winter bring to life plants you didn’t even know where there.  The fields of blossoms or individual blooms are beautiful!  Now is a great time to go, but anytime from mid-February to early April will be pretty good for desert wildflower viewing (conditions will vary depending on altitude and how much rain has fallen that year).

I’ve mostly visited the desert around Palm Springs and Tucson so the accompanying photos share with you some of the blooming plants I’ve seen while visiting there. Sorry, I’m not a botanist and don’t know most of these plants by their names, but you don’t need to know them to enjoy their beauty.

(Click on thumbnails to enlarge, right arrow to advance slideshow)

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